Mo MOBA mo problems
What is Battleborn? That’s a question I’ve been both asked and asked myself over the week that I’ve spent with the game and I still don’t think I have a definitive answer. A lot of that is down to the game itself which suffers from a bizarre case of identity crisis but, in a nutshell, Battleborn is a character driven first person action game which blends competitive and co-op modes to tell the tale of the battle to protect the last star in the universe. Sound intriguing? On the surface, Battleborn brings some very interesting ideas to the table but in practice the experience is found to be more than a touch vanilla.
Let’s start by taking a look at what Battleborn gets right. First and foremost, it looks great. When many modern games, shooters in particular, aim for a very grimdark realistic feel, Battleborn is drawn of brighter palettes, with vibrant, cartoony visuals. In a way it’s got that PS2 era feel that the recent Ratchet and Clank remake invokes, all chunky geometry and outlandish weaponry. The characters brim with individual personality and, despite some homages to other franchises and pop culture thrown in here and there, are fresh and a genuine joy to play as.
There are twenty five characters in total, with five more to be released in post launch DLC (more on that later) and seven of those are unlocked from the get go. Some characters have a penchant for melee, some like shooting big guns and others are content in providing support for their teammates – healers and the like. Players choose their character before jumping into a mission in either the co-op or competitive modes. Co-op missions are all story driven while competitive are PvP team based challenges in one of three game modes: Incursion, Capture and Meltdown.
One of the things that particularly stood out for me is how the game handles character progression. Each character starts each mission at level 1 with basic abilities and no perks. Through playing, defeating enemies and tackling different objectives you’ll earn experience which will level your character up. Hit a new level and you can choose from one of two new perks; these can do things like improve weapon damage, add buffs such as silence or slowdown to your abilities and allow you to start piecing together combos on the battlefield. The choice is made through an intuitive “Helix” mechanism – hold up on the D-Pad and pull either the right or left trigger to select the ability you want. It’s a quick approach that’s well suited to the pace of the game. Add to that gear which is obtained through blind bags either bought with in-game currency or earned by completing specific things in the game, there is a surprising depth to the way you can play.
And what of the game missions? Well, on the PvP side of things you have, in essence, a first person MOBA. Incursion is the MOBA format at its purest – two bases with targets to destroy, two teams going at each other, first person to destroy the opponent’s base of do the most damage before the timer is up wins. There are gun turrets and recharge points you can build on the battlefield by using “shards” that you collect, and factionless minions to hire and fight alongside you. Meltdown is similar in format but focusses on the teams having to guide a group of minions towards “grinders”, sacrificing them to the robot Gods. Capture involves three points on the map that must be taken and held to score and feels like a more general multiplayer shooter kind of mode.
PvP is a lot of fun, very fast paced and easy to get into as all characters start on an even level 1 keel. What did disappoint me, however, was the lack of maps. There are six available out of the box, two for each mode, and after a couple of evenings playing I’d seen everything on offer at least twice. There’s also the issue of pacing which is a big problem in Battleborn for me – Capture mode puts players against a 15 minute clock, which seems an adequate time, however Incursion and Meltdown maps have a 30 minute clock. I see this as just being far too long for what can get VERY repetitive and led to me losing interest in an ongoing game more than once. Unfortunately, the same can also be said for Battleborn’s other mode, the PvE co-op story.
While it’s pleasing to see Gearbox include a fairly solid amount of story content (8 missions), it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s not referred to as “single player”. This is very much a co-op experience and, while it can be played solo, it’s certainly not scaled that way. I scraped through on a few single player games but generally got VERY overwhelmed by the sheer amount of enemies the story missions threw at me. Add to this the fact that it’s also easy to pick a character that is unsuited to that particular scenario, be they more support or melee when a ranged approach would be better, and you often find yourself battling through around twenty minutes of gameplay before you find this out. I also had a lot of difficulty finding people who wanted to play specific co-op missions online which led to quite a frustrating time. Fortunately there is also a split screen option, so you can couch co-op with a buddy and battle your way through the story should you wish.
On another positive point, but also a sad indictment of modern gaming, Battleborn gets bonus points for NOT having any kind of microtransaction system built in. Characters unlock through sheer game progression and gear blind-bags are purchased with earned in-game currency – I honestly spent a lot of time sifting through both the menus and the Playstation store to see if Gearbox had tucked away any method of purchasing this in-game cash for real life monies, but the truth is there is none. Of course there’s a season pass, moderately priced at £14.99, but the bonuses don’t particularly affect the PvP side of things – you’ll get five co-op missions to play through, immediate unlocks for the five new characters that are going to be added post release, and some cosmetic stuff – character skins, taunts and the like. It’s commendable, then, that things like new multiplayer maps, game modes and the aforementioned new characters are being added for free for everyone, keeping the PvP game on an even playing field.
I enjoyed Battleborn, but nothing stood out for me as groundbreaking. The PvP elements were a lot of fun but, despite the large character roster and unlockable content, the lack of game modes and maps out of the box makes me question the initial staying power of the game. Gearbox have committed to keeping the extra content coming for all players in the post release months, but with Overwatch biting at this games heels, as well as CoD, Battlefield and Titanfall 2 further down the line, it remains to be seen whether Battleborn will retain its fanbase as the FPS market becomes somewhat saturated this year.